30 fans injured in last lap Nationwide Daytona crash
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) - At least 30 NASCAR fans were injured
Saturday when a car sailed into the fence at Daytona International
Speedway, and large chunks of debris - including a tire - flew into the
grandstands. No fatalities were reported from the accident on the last
lap of the Nationwide Series race.
The crash began as the field closed in on the
finish line, and rookie Kyle Larson's car came upon the wreck and went
airborne into the fence that separates the track from the seats.
Large chunks of Larson's car landed in the
grandstands, and one of his tires appeared to fly over the fence and
land midway up the lower section. The car itself had its entire front
end sheared off, with the burning engine wedged through a gaping hole in
Speedway President Joie Chitwood said 14 fans were
treated on site, and 14 others were taken to hospitals. Chitwood didn't
give any updates on their conditions.
The number of those transported given by Chitwood was slightly lower than that given by local officials.
Halifax Health spokesman Byron Cogdell said 12
people were transported to Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona
Beach and six others were taken to Halifax Health Medical Center of Port
Orange. All were in stable condition, Cogdell said.
Lindsay Rew, a spokeswoman for Florida Hospital
Memorial Medical Center, said its Daytona Beach hospital had one fan
there who was in good condition. She said three others they had been
expecting were diverted to another hospital.
No fatalities were reported at either hospital.
Cogdell said two people taken to the Halifax in Daytona Beach arrived in
critical condition, and one of those had life-threatening injuries,
both were upgraded to stable condition.
The accident happened the day before the Sprint Cup
Series season-opening Daytona 500 - NASCAR's version of the Super Bowl.
Daytona workers could be seen repairing the large section of fence
where Larson hit, as well as the wall that was damaged in the accident.
"First and foremost our thoughts and prayers are
with our race fans," Chitwood said. "Following the incident we responded
appropriately according to our safety protocols, and had emergency
medical personnel at the incident immediately.
"We're in the process of repairing the facility and will be ready to go racing tomorrow."
As emergency workers tended to injured fans and
ambulance sirens wailed in the background, a somber Tony Stewart skipped
the traditional post-race victory celebration.
Stewart, who won for the 19th time at Daytona and
seventh time in the last nine season-opening Nationwide races, was in no
mood to celebrate.
"The important thing is what going on on the
frontstretch right now," said Stewart, the three-time NASCAR champion.
"We've always known, and since racing started, this is a dangerous
sport. But it's hard. We assume that risk, but it's hard when the fans
get caught up in it.
"So as much as we want to celebrate right now and
as much as this is a big deal to us, I'm more worried about the drivers
and the fans that are in the stands right now because that was ... I
could see it all in my mirror, and it didn't look good from where I was
The accident spread into the upper deck and
emergency crews treated fans on both levels. There were five stretchers
that appeared to be carrying fans out, and a helicopter flew overhead. A
forklift was used to pluck Larson's engine out of the fence.
Chitwood waited by steps as emergency workers
attended to those in the stands. Across the track, fans pressed against a
fence and used binoculars trying to watch. Wrecked cars and busted
parts were strewn across the garage.
"It's a violent wreck. Just seeing the carnage on the racetrack, it's truly unbelievable," driver Justin Allgaier said.
It was a chaotic finish to a race that was stopped
for nearly 20 minutes five laps from the finish by a 13-car accident
that sent driver Michael Annett to a hospital, where his Richard Petty
Motorsports team said he would be held overnight with bruising to his
The race resumed with three laps to go, and the
final accident occurred with Regan Smith leading as he headed out of the
final turn to the checkered flag. He admittedly tried to block Brad
Keselowski to preserve the win.
"I tried to throw a block. It's Daytona, you want
to go for the win here," Smith said. "I don't know how you can play it
any different other than concede second place, and I wasn't willing to
do that today. Our job is to put them in position to win, and it was,
and it didn't work out."
As the cars began wrecking all around Smith and
Keselowski, Stewart slid through for the win, but Larson plowed into
Keselowski and his car was sent airborne into the stands. When Larson's
car came to a stop, it was missing its entire front end. The
20-year-old, who made his Daytona debut this week, stood apparently
stunned, hands on his hips, several feet away from his car, before
finally making the mandatory trip to the care center.
He said his first thought was with the fans.
"I hope all the fans are OK and all the drivers are
all right," Larson said. "I took a couple big hits there and saw my
engine was gone. Just hope everybody's all right."
He said he was along for the ride in the last-lap accident.
"I was getting pushed from behind, I felt like, and
by the time my spotter said lift or go low, it was too late," Larson
said. "I was in the wreck and then felt like it was slowing down and I
looked like I could see the ground. Had some flames come in the cockpit,
but luckily I was all right and could get out of the car quick."
It appeared fans were lined right along the fence
when Larson's car sailed up and into it, but Chitwood indicated there
was a buffer. He said there would be no changes to the seating before
the Daytona 500.
"We don't anticipate moving any of our fans,"
Chitwood said. "We had our safety protocols in place. Our security
maintained a buffer that separates the fans from the fencing area. With
the fencing being prepared tonight to our safety protocols, we expect
to go racing tomorrow with no changes."
Larson's car appeared to hit where the cross-over
gate - a section that can be opened for people to travel back and forth
from the infield to the grandstands - is located in the fence. Previous
accidents in which drivers hit crossover gates were severe, but the
gates were in the wall and not the fence for Mike Harmon's accident at
Bristol in 2002 and Michael Waltrip's at the same track in 1990.
Still, NASCAR senior vice president Steve O'Donnell said it would be studied.
"I think we look at this after every incident,"
O'Donnell said. "We've learned in the past certain protocols put in
place today are a result of prior incidents. Again, our initial
evaluation is still ongoing. But it's certainly something we'll look
at. If we can improve upon it, we'll certainly put that in play as soon
as we can."
Larson had been scheduled to race his sprint car
later Saturday night in Ocala, Fla., and even seemed restless to get
there during the late stages of the Nationwide race. He pulled out of
the event following the accident.
"Honestly, the race itself pales in comparison to
the injuries sustained by the fans," said Chip Ganassi, the team owner
who has Larson in his driver development program. "Our thoughts and
prayers go out to all the fans that were injured as a result of the
crash. As for Kyle, I am very happy that he is OK."
Keselowski watched a replay of the final accident,
and said his first thoughts were with the fans. As for the accident, he
agreed he tried to make a winning move and Smith tried to block.
"He felt like that's what he had to do, and that's
his right. The chaos comes with it," Keselowski said. "I made the move
and he blocked it, and the two of us got together and started the chain
events that caused that wreck. First and foremost, just want to make
sure everyone in the stands is OK and we're thinking about them."
Keselowski said the incident could cast a pall on the Daytona 500.
"I think until we know exactly the statuses of
everyone involved, it's hard to lock yourself into the 500," Keselowski
said. "Hopefully, we'll know soon and hopefully everyone's OK. And if
that's the case, we'll staring focusing on Sunday."
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